It has been seven months since the Chargers announced their departure from America’s Finest City in favor of “that city to the North”.
Along with their departure and subsequent release of an infamous logo, which has since been abandoned, the Bolts lead their charge with the motto, “Fight For LA”. With that, the question remained, who would fight for San Diego?
The Padres are loyal to San Diego and have a dedicated local fan base, but can’t seem to get it together on the field to captivate the city. The Gulls have been great in their return to the ice, averaging nearly 10,000 fans a game since the Chargers left, but are limited in their growth as a minor league team. Now what about that team up on Montezuma Mesa that’s about to begin their 95th season of football? What are the SDSU Aztecs doing to win over San Diego and fill the void left by the Chargers and the NFL?
The Aztecs have stamped the motto “One City, One Team” everywhere these past few months in an attempt to promote local support for the football program, but what have they done to earn that allegiance? San Diegans love to support a winner, and the Aztecs have done that consistently under head coach Rocky Long.
After seven consecutive bowl games, back-to-back eleven-win seasons, and a Top 25 finish in 2016, the Aztecs have earned the curiosity of San Diego football fans. However, winning alone might not be all it takes in a city that adores heroes such as Tony Gwynn, LT, and Junior Seau.
Last season, Aztec legend Donnel Pumphrey set the NCAA all-time rushing record before being drafted to the NFL by the Philadelphia Eagles. On the current Aztec roster, Rashaad Penny is a preseason All-American kick returner, two-time Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year, and one of the nation’s top running back prospects.
Part of what made those legends special was their commitment to the community of San Diego. Aztec head coach Rocky Long has also made an effort to reach out to the local community and come face to face with their fans. After Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh announced he was taking his team to Italy, coach Long decided to take the Aztecs to Little Italy, San Diego. The team was able to get a taste of Italy, meet local fans, and play ball with local school children. During fall camp, Long took the team to MCAS Miramar for a fan meet and greet and scrimmage at the base. The team had lunch with local Marine Corps football players and got to play in front of local military families, an opportunity cherished by many football players who, themselves, grew up on military installations.
In a stadium the size of San Diego Stadium, it is difficult to create a vibrant atmosphere, especially in the student section that usually clears out after half time. Recently, the athletic department announced a partnership with Block Party, an event promotion group, to enhance fan experience at games. Block Party will be hosting two bungalows on the field for rent during every Aztec home game. The bungalows offer a unique fan experience, and show the university’s commitment to trying new ideas to improve game day atmosphere. Block Party will also be enhancing the student game day experience, which has been an issue that has kept students away from games for years.
While San Diego’s former team fights for Los Angeles, the Aztecs are doing everything they can to make San Diego, “One City, One Team”. Season tickets are up over 26% from last year, and the ticket office expects that number to increase as more local football fans give the Aztecs a chance to win their loyalty. This season will be a big test to see where San Diego sports fans stand, but know that the team that is fighting for them is here to stay.